Prevent Workplace Falls

Workplace falls are both common and preventable. Falls from heights is the second-leading cause of unintentional workplace death in the U.S. However, a worker doesn’t need to fall from a high level to suffer injuries and lost work time. Falls can happen anywhere; even office workers can be injured from slipping or tripping on a level surface.

At the UW, the category “slips/trips/falls” has been among the top three leading causes of injuries to UW personnel (including medical center personnel) every year from 2018 to 2021.

EH&S provides the following information and resources for University units and personnel to identify potential risk factors and implement best practices for fall prevention.

Prevent falls from heights

There can be unsafe conditions in the workplace and unsafe actions that can lead to a fall.

Unsafe conditions that lead to falls include:

  • Unguarded edges
  • Open holes
  • Improper guardrails
  • Damaged equipment (e.g., ladders, stairs, safety equipment, etc.)
  • Slippery conditions
  • Unmarked elevation changes

Unsafe actions that lead to falls include:

  • Working at heights without fall protection or fall prevention methods (e.g., handrails)
  • Improper use of ladders
  • Leaning over guardrails

Best practices to avoid workplace falls:

  • Have physical barriers and guardrails to prevent falls from heights
  • Use scaffolding if a guardrail is not feasible
  • Use proper fall arrest system such as a full body harness, self-retracting lanyard, and approved anchor point
  • Use ladders properly. 
    • Choose the right ladder for the job – size and type. 
    • Keep three points of contact when climbing.
    • Do not lean to one side while on a ladder.
    • Set the ladder at the proper angle/ratio.
    • Secure the ladder before using.
  • Post a fall hazard warning sign in areas where a fall hazard exists
  • Inspect fall protection equipment before each use
  • Never use equipment not rated or made for fall protection

Refer to the UW Fall Protection Program Manual for information and resources that all units/departments can use to address potential fall hazards.

The manual includes inspection forms, such as the Walking-Working Surfaces Inspection Checklist, which can help identify potential areas of concern. The manual also includes information on regulations, resources, and training requirements for personnel who use ladders, fall protection gear, powered mobile lifting equipment and other equipment, or work on scaffolding.

Units/departments must ensure required inspections are conducted and personnel complete required training.

Prevent slips and trips

Both slips and trips result from some an unintended or unexpected change in the contact between the feet and the ground or walking surface.

Slips

Slips happen where there is too little friction or traction between the footwear and the walking surface. Common causes of slips are:

  • Wet or oily surfaces
  • Occasional spills
  • Weather hazards
  • Loose, unanchored rugs or mats
  • Flooring or other walking surfaces that do not have same degree of traction in all areas

Trips

Trips happen when your foot collides (strikes, hits) an object causing you to lose balance and, eventually fall. Common causes of trips are:

  • Obstructed view
  • Poor lighting
  • Clutter in your way
  • Wrinkled carpeting
  • Uncovered cables
  • Bottom drawers not being closed
  • Uneven walking surfaces (steps, thresholds)

Good housekeeping, quality of walking surfaces (flooring), and proper footwear are critical for preventing fall incidents.

Housekeeping

Good housekeeping is fundamental for preventing falls due to slips and trips. It includes:

  • Cleaning up all spills immediately
  • Marking spills and wet areas
  • Mopping or sweeping debris from floors
  • Removing obstacles from walkways and always keeping walkways free of clutter
  • Securing (tack, tape, etc.) mats, rugs and carpets that do not lay flat
  • Closing file cabinet or storage drawers
  • Covering cables that cross walkways
  • Keeping work areas and walkways well lit
  • Replacing non-working light bulbs and switches

Without good housekeeping practices, any other preventive measures such as installation of sophisticated flooring, specialty footwear or fall prevention training will never be fully effective.

Flooring

Changing or modifying walking surfaces is the next level of preventing slips and trips. Adding resilient, non-slippery flooring prevents or reduces foot fatigue and contributes to slip prevention measures.

Options include recoating or replacing floors, installing mats, adding pressure-sensitive abrasive strips or abrasive-filled paint-on coating, and using metal or synthetic decking. Even with these measures, it is critical to remember that high-tech flooring requires good housekeeping as much as any other flooring.

Footwear

In workplaces where floors may be oily or wet, or where workers spend considerable time outdoors, prevention of fall incidents should focus on selecting proper footwear. Properly fitting footwear increases comfort and prevents fatigue which, in turn, improves personnel safety.

Because no footwear exists with anti-slip properties for every condition, you should consult the manufacturers' recommendations when selecting footwear.

You can avoid falls at work

Reduce the risk of slipping on wet flooring.

  • Take your time and pay attention to where you are going.
  • Adjust your stride to a pace that is suitable for the walking surface and the tasks you are doing.
  • Walk with the feet pointed slightly outward.
  • Make wide turns at corners.

Reduce the risk of tripping.

  • Keep walking areas clear from clutter or obstructions.
  • Keep flooring in good condition.
  • Always use installed light sources that provide sufficient light for your tasks.
  • Use a flashlight if you enter a dark room where there is no light.
  • Make sure that things you are carrying or pushing do not prevent you from seeing any obstructions, spills, etc.

Units and departments can use the Walking-Working Surfaces Inspection Checklist to identify areas or conditions for potential slip and trip hazards, especially in office and general work areas.

Read the frequently asked questions below, which may help when you need to work at heights, even for a short time in your office, in a campus building, outside, or at home.

Frequently asked questions

The best option is to find a way to eliminate the hazard altogether.

It is important to inspect work areas for potential fall hazards. Use the Walking-Working Surfaces Inspection Checklist.

Be aware of potential fall hazards for safety of yourself and others. Notify your supervisor if you see fall hazards.

Invest in proper equipment to prevent potential falls. Plan for any work at heights. Do not take shortcuts.

The best way to prevent falls is to eliminate the hazard. 

Find a way to do the job without using a ladder…use poles, grabber tools, light bulb changers for high ceilings (as shown in the image).pole with attachments for reaching high objects

Never stand on furniture to reach high places.

If you must use a ladder or step stool, then it’s important to select the correct one for the task. You may need to ask your supervisor, building coordinator or facility manager for assistance.

Use a ladder-type stepstool to reach high places in offices, storerooms and storage areas, and follow the Ladder Safety guidance.

3-step stepstool ladder

There are several things individuals can do to ensure fall hazards are addressed properly:

  • Contact your facilities department.
  • Notify your supervisor.
  • Contact your Building Coordinator.
  • Anonymously report your safety concern to EH&S.
  • If you are able and knowledgeable, correct the issue yourself. An example would be cleaning your work area to remove trip hazards.

If you need to do work while standing on a ladder, consider using a platform or podium ladder. They provide a secure large step on a ladder where your feet are on a flat surface and you can use both hands to safely do work.

On a platform or podium ladder, you maintain three points of contact by keeping two feet on the platform and leaning against the top rail for support.

podium ladder

Also, in large areas, consider using a mobile ladder that is safer to ascend and descend. It also provides a more stable standing surface, which is important if you are lifting or lowering large, heavy or awkward items.

mobile ladder

Alternatively, a scissor lift or personnel lift can be used instead of a ladder. Training is required prior to use.

personnel lift  scissor lift

 

No. Non-ANSI approved fall protection equipment, such as rock-climbing harnesses and associated gear is not allowed. A rock-climbing harnesses is not the same as an ANSI-approved full body harness.

The use of ANSI-approved fall protection equipment is required at the UW when working at heights.

rock climbing harness ANSI approved fall protection harness

 

Yes. Using a forklift to deliver palletized items onto an elevated structure used for storage, such as a mezzanine, can pose a safety challenge because you need an opening in the guardrail on the mezzanine to load palletized items, which exposes unprotected personnel on the mezzanine to a fall hazard.

Many companies make solutions specifically for the purpose of protecting personnel on mezzanines from falls during loading activities. Below are examples of pivoting safety gates that always provide protection to the person working on the mezzanine level.

mezzanine safety gate  mezzanine safety gate

View a video demonstration of a mezzanine safety gate.

 

Yes. Always inspect working areas for sharp edges if working with fall protection equipment at heights. Remove the edges or cover them to avoid damage to equipment and lifelines.

Two Washington state workers fell to their deaths when their self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) were severed on sharp edges. Read the L&I DOSH Hazard Alert from Sept 2019.

exposed edge cut lifeline in fatal fall

You need a fall protection work plan when erecting or dismantling scaffolding at heights greater than 10 feet.

The requirements include:

  • To prevent movement, scaffolding with a height-to-base ratio greater than 4:1 must be secured to a permanent building or structure at intervals not to exceed 30 feet horizontally and 20 feet vertically.
  • Walls that support an exterior scaffold must be capable of supporting the weight of the scaffold and four times the maximum intended load on the scaffolding (confirmed by a professional engineer).
  • Scaffolding must be fully planked with the planks secured so they cannot move.
  • Careful consideration of wind load should be considered in the design of wrapped scaffolds.

It is a UW requirement that supported scaffolds (attached to a building or structure) that are fabricated frame scaffolds must be designed by a professional engineer with a current license in the state where the scaffolding is being erected.

The erection of the engineered scaffold must be in accordance with WAC 296-874-400. A representative number of anchors installed (best practice is 10 percent) must be pull tested to verify the load design requirements have been met. Documentation of the pull tests must be provided to the Qualified Person(s) and Competent Person(s) responsible for the scaffolding design, erection, and use.

No, unless at least one of following exemptions is met.

A scaffold may be moved horizontally while personnel are on it if the scaffold

  1. Has been specifically designed for such movement by a registered professional engineer; or
  2. The mobile scaffold meets the requirements of section WAC 296-874-40012 when moving mobile scaffolds.

Contact EH&S at 206.543.7388 with questions.

National statistics on workplace falls

Statistics show that the majority (67%) of falls happen on a level surface resulting from slips and trips. The remaining falls (30%) are from a height, such as falls from ladders, roofs, down stairs or from jumping to a lower level.

National injury and fatality statistics show four fall-related OSHA violations ranked high in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The fall-related violations are noted in the chart below from data of the top ten OSHA violations reported by the National Safety Council. The fall-related violations include:

  • Fall protection
  • Scaffolding
  • Ladders
  • Fall protection training

According to OSHA the data reported appears to split evenly between construction and general industry.

Chart showing OSHA violations in 2019-2021

Contact

Occupational Safety and Health Contact

(206) 543-7388